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How the Chiefs could structure a new contract for Chris Jones

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If the Chiefs can’t work a trade deal for their star defensive end, what would a long-term deal look like?

Chiefs beat Jaguars 30-14 John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

For more than a year, the contract the Kansas City Chiefs need to sign with their star defensive tackle, Chris Jones, has never been far from the minds of fans.

At the conclusion of the 2018 season, the Chiefs identified extending Jones’ contract as an offseason priority. Reports at the time indicated Jones could get a five-year deal worth somewhere around $100 million. A deal was never finalized.

Now that Jones is on the franchise tag, many have assumed the Chiefs intend to trade him, which would open up $16.1 million in cap space the team desperately needs. (At this writing, we estimate the team is more than $1.5 million over the salary cap — without accounting for the $4.8 million they will need for their draft class at the end of April).

And that could very well happen. All the Chiefs need is a trading partner that has the draft capital to spare and enough cap space to create a new contract Jones will accept.

Yet it remains possible the Chiefs and Jones could come to terms on a long-term contract — one that would give the team salary cap relief and keep him on the team for 2020 and beyond.

So just as we did for Sammy Watkins last week, let’s see what such a contract might look like. NFL.com writer Anthony Holzman-Escareno writer has given us a starting place. In an article published on Wednesday evening, he identified Jones as the top defensive player currently on the franchise tag.

Jones, who held out of offseason workouts last summer in the hopes of getting a new deal, has expressed his desire to remain in Kansas City, but he also admitted having “a mix of emotions” about the franchise tag. Jones should rightfully be asking to be made one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. I could see him joining the $20 million club, which, in terms of defensive players, only currently includes Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, DeMarcus Lawrence and fellow Chief Frank Clark. Is the Kansas City front office — which has also surely been preparing for quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ imminent record-breaking extension — willing to house two $20 million defensive linemen? Unless Jones decides to take less to stay with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the team is going to bring the Brink’s truck.

The article suggests that a reasonable deal for Jones would be a five-year, $101 million contract that includes $56 million guaranteed.

Here is a contract structure fitting that model:

Holzman-Escareno's deal

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022 New 2023 New 2024
Bonus Pd $0 $27.0M $0 $0 $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $0 $5.4M $5.4M $5.4M $5.4M $5.4M
Salary $16.1M $1.0M $14.0M $14.0M $22.0M $23.0M
Cash Paid $16.1M $28.0M $14.0M $14.0M $22.0M $23.0M
Cap Hit $16.1M $6.4M $19.4M $19.4M $27.4M $28.4M
Dead Money $0 $56.0M $49.6M $30.2M $10.8M $5.4M
Cut Savings $16.1M -$49.6M -$30.2M -$10.8M $16.6M $23.0M

The first three years of this contract would be guaranteed. After that, the team would have an out, leaving $10.8 million in dead money over the last two years. It would give the Chiefs $9.7 million in additional cap space for the coming season, paying Jones $1 million in salary and a $27 million bonus at signing. Jones’ cap hit would be just $19.4 million in 2021 and 2022, giving the team some space with which to work while navigating the critical first two years of Mahomes’s new deal — whatever that works out to be.

Holzman-Escareno alternative

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022 New 2023 New 2024
Bonus Pd $0 $24.0M $0 $0 $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $0 $4.8M $4.8M $4.8M $4.8M $4.8M
Salary $16.1M $1.0M $14.0M $17.0M $21.0M $24.0M
Cash Paid $16.1M $25.0M $14.0M $17.0M $21.0M $24.0M
Cap Hit $16.1M $5.8M $18.8M $21.8M $25.8M $28.8M
Dead Money $0 $56.0M $50.2M $31.4M $9.6M $4.8M
Cut Savings $16.1M -$50.2M -$31.4M -$9.6M $16.2M $24.0M

This variation of the first deal still gives Jones a fair $101 million contract with $56 million guaranteed. The smaller $24 million signing bonus maximizes the 2020 cap savings at $10.3 million and gives Jones a somewhat smaller 2021 cap hit of $18.8 million. But it’s also backloaded a little less. That gives the Chiefs a little less maneuvering room in 2022, but also makes it more likely the team could retain Jones in the fourth and fifth seasons of the deal.

But this assumes that Jones is willing to accept a $101 million contract. What if he wants $21 (or more) per year?

Pay Jones more than Clark

Description Curr 2020 New 2020 New 2021 New 2022 New 2023 New 2024
Bonus Pd $0 $32.0M $0 $0 $0 $0
Prorated Bonus $0 $6.4M $6.4M $6.4M $6.4M $6.4M
Salary $16.1M $1.0M $13.0M $17.0M $21.0M $22.0M
Cash Paid $16.1M $33.0M $13.0M $17.0M $21.0M $22.0M
Cap Hit $16.1M $7.4M $19.4M $23.4M $27.4M $28.4M
Dead Money $0 $63.0M $55.6M $36.2M $12.8M $6.4M
Cut Savings $16.1M -$55.6M -$36.2M -$12.8M $14.6M $22.0M

This contract is worth $106 million, including $63 million guaranteed.. It would give Jones a $32 million signing bonus that would cut the team’s additional 2020 cap space to $8.7 million. Like the first deal, it gives Jones a $19.4 cap hit in 2021, but the cap hits in both 2022 and 2023 are the highest of any of these three deals.

This structure is based on a simple idea: Jones is angry because in 2019, the Chiefs traded for Frank Clark instead coming to terms with him. Therefore, he’s not willing to agree to a Chiefs deal unless it pays him what Clark got — or maybe a little more. This deal would satisfy that requirement.


The bottom line

In the end, what the Chiefs do with Jones will depend on how much they believe he adds to the team. They clearly believe he brings enough to risk the chance they won’t find a trading partner or make a long-term deal, forcing them to use $16.1 million of their very precious cap space to pay Jones for a single season.

But do they think Jones adds enough to give him a five-year deal that pays him around $100 million? The odds are that they do — but Jones isn’t (yet) willing to take that deal. It could be that the Chiefs have already considered trade offers, but the other teams have been unwilling to pay Jones an average of $21 million on a new deal. Given time, Jones could realize that his best bet is to accept a little less money to remain with the team.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. By our calculations, the free-agency signings the Chiefs have already made will put them at least $1.5 million over the salary cap when those contracts are processed. If they can’t soon find common ground with Jones, they’re going to have to make a personnel move they’d like to avoid: either giving an outright release to a player they’d rather keep (think Sammy Watkins or Laurent-Duvernay-Tardif), or making another minor contract restructure as they did with Clark — thereby kicking another $5 million can down the road.